SEPT. 2009: The NJ Schools Development Authority recently announced its plan to demolish all but the tower of Trenton Central High School and to replace the building with a smaller school with less capacity. This decision was made in the wake of SDA moves to do the same at historic Camden High School. For breaking news on historic schools endangered by unsustainable and costly plans by SDA, follow the PNJ blog and visit A Better High School Plan for Trenton on Facebook.
New Jersey has an enormous historic resource in its urban public schools. These structures, built at the peak of urban influence, wealth and power, have been the victim of years of not-so-benign neglect. But this same neglect has also preserved them. In many of our cities and older towns these schools, along with other proud civic structures, are testaments to 19th and early 20th century American culture, optimism, and inventiveness. They are handsome, solid structures integrated into the fabric of their neighborhoods, using materials and craftsmanship that cannot be replicated today. As the automobile and anti-urban propaganda moved the middle class and the power base to the suburbs, these schools were left behind, serving newer and poorer populations. Our cities, no longer as wealthy, kept the buildings because replicating them was too expensive. As architectural and educational fads swept the wealthier districts, many of these historic school buildings continued to be used in older cities because it was cheaper and easier just to keep patching the roof.
Trenton central high school
Because of the past unfairness of the state’s school funding process and because of the shift of wealth to the suburbs, our urban districts now have an incredible historical resource, still largely intact. The bad news, however, is that years of minimal maintenance have taken their toll. Roofs need to be replaced; walls need to be repainted; HVAC systems desperately need to be redesigned. Computer systems, if present, are ad-hoc. Many schools do not have enough electrical power to run the new systems that all of the suburban schools have had for years. These beautiful buildings have become educationally and functionally inadequate.
2000 GW Elementary School, adj to Morristown NHP
National Trust has increased national awareness
Trust: Cranberry, Port Colden
Threats are increased enrollment, delayed maintenance, expanded Kindergarten and after school programs, technology, reduced class size, special education, curriculum standards, particularly urban schools
1891 Church Street School Long Branch, abandoned art modern s. Junior High School, Bloomfield, for sale
1816 PS#1 Woodbridge; lost decorative features
PS1 Perth Amboy threat w. demolition
Vine Street School; Bridgeton, abandoned
Somerville, 2 schools threatened with demo
1857 Trenton, NR Higbee Street School
Franklin Street School, Cape May; last of segregated schools, possible community center
McGinnis School, Perth Amboy, successful $10.5 m renovation 93-96
Much local and national attention paid to issue, but individual results vary. Two schools received grants for unique projects. Research continues.
James Nichols, Department of Education
Gene Soma, Long Branch Historical
Linda Sercus, Bloomfield